On the evening of October 1, 1937, members of the Washington, D.C., press corps surrounded a house in Chevy Chase, Maryland. As cameras flashed, Hugo Black was driven up a back alley and hustled through a cellar door. The furtive visit stood in stark contrast to a triumphal appearance at the White House that he had made just six weeks earlier, when Franklin Roosevelt had nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although Black, who left the U.S. Senate to accept the appointment, had been easily confirmed by his colleagues, a firestorm had since erupted. Press reports had revealed that the Alabama native had once been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Which was why Black arrived, just before the Court’s term was to begin, at the Maryland residence of a friend; there, in a makeshift radio studio, he spoke before a handful of microphones in what became the most listened to radio broadcast since the abdication of Edward VIII.

“Before becoming a senator,” he explained in a clipped drawl, “I dropped the Klan. I have had nothing to do with it since that time.”

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